AdvanceNOLA and AP Courses in RSD-Run Schools: Clarifying the Issues
By: Emily Remington | November 11, 2010
On October 27, 2010, Diane Ravitch gave a lecture at Dillard University; her remarks have sparked much conversation and debate in New Orleans’ education circles. The focus of much of this debate, due partly to Ravitch’s own online commentary on what she learned in New Orleans, has centered on the Cowen Institute and, more specifically, the Institute’s AdvanceNOLA program. This program implements college readiness initiatives, including Advanced Placement courses, in several Orleans Parish public high schools.
In July 2008, the Cowen Institute was generously awarded grants from the ExxonMobil, AT&T, and Prothro Foundations to implement an Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program. We named it AdvanceNOLA. The grant covers all of the costs associated with creating Advanced Placement math, science, and English courses, including equipment, training, student support and performance-based monetary incentives to students and school staff. Advanced Placement (AP) courses are college-level courses that are taken for free by students who are in high school; students can earn college credit if they make a certain score on an end-of-course exam.
In Spring 2009, AP courses started at three schools and by Fall 2009, four partner high schools offered AP courses. (That year, two of the partner schools, including one RSD-run school, opted to provide AP courses not covered by AdvanceNOLA.) In the current school year, we sponsor 20 AP courses in five high schools. Over 350 students are enrolled in these courses. Since the inception of the program, we have had partnerships with four RSD-run high schools, two of which are being closed by the RSD, while AP classes have been ended at another school, for the time being, for reasons explained below.
In both Ravitch’s blog post and others, it has been taken as fact that AP courses “are not allowed” in traditional RSD high schools. We can state definitively that in May 2010, 71 students from traditional RSD high schools took AP exams. Not all of them were in AdvanceNOLA partner schools. Two students at Clark High School took Advanced Placement exams. (These data and more are available in our recently released brief Surveying the Public High School Landscape of New Orleans.) It should be noted that the number of exams taken does not usually reflect the total number of students enrolled in AP courses.
As Ravitch notes in her blog, a Cowen Institute staff member attending her lecture did not have an answer as to why the traditional RSD high schools do not offer Advanced Placement courses. The Cowen Institute believes that the best person to pose this particular query to is Paul Vallas, the Superintendent of the Recovery School District, who would be ultimately responsible for his school leaders deciding to “not allow” certain courses to be offered in their schools. However, we can say with certainty that RSD high schools are “allowed” to offer AP courses, since over the course of AdvanceNOLA’s operation, we have supported those courses in four RSD-run high schools.
We have heard particular concern expressed about our reasons for no longer supporting AP classes at John McDonogh. AdvanceNOLA has not yet been able to develop a successful partnership with John McDonogh in the 2010-11 school year due to several circumstances. (Though keep in mind, the school is “allowed” to offer any AP classes it wishes without being one of our partner schools.)
1) In Spring 2010, we learned that the principal at John McDonogh would be replaced. His replacement was announced within a few days of school opening in August 2010.
2) In July 2010, we asked to place an intern at the school for 20 hours per week to help students with their college applications, to research financial aid opportunities, and to provide other college readiness assistance. This offer was refused.
3) At the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, we were notified that school leadership cut AP courses from the school schedule.
4) Despite several attempts, we have been unable to meet with the new leadership team. Cowen Institute staff met with the counseling team on November 3, 2010, and we outlined a plan for what a partnership may look like in Spring 2011. We still await word from the principal to allow us to move forward with this plan.
We hope that this post clears up any misconceptions that are held about our AdvanceNOLA program, its role in RSD-run high schools, and the ability of RSD-run high schools to offer AP courses should they so desire. If you have any additional questions about the work that the Cowen Institute does in its AdvanceNOLA program or its research and policy areas, please contact Shannon Jones Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.